Chris Swagler | November 10th, 2022

With each passing year, ransomware attacks and ransomware threat operators continue to evolve, becoming more complex and damaging. Threat operators are quickly able to move in and out of victims’ networks, encrypting systems or exfiltrating data before discovery by security teams. What companies need is a complementary offensive strategy in which cyber threats and adversaries are hunted down and neutralized before inflicting damage.

Threat hunting is when security teams proactively scan through security data searching for hidden patterns, suspicious malware, activity, or virtual footprints by threat actors. Even though threat-hunting tactics might vary greatly depending on the resources available, the following best practices can assist security teams in becoming more successful threat hunters.

  1. Use Automation to Monitor and Analyze Security Data – Monitoring and analyzing security logs may sound trite; however, it’s one of the simplest things threat hunters can do to uncover anomalies and suspicious activities. Because most security tools create too much data and raise so many alerts, security teams need to use automation and AI tools to correlate data from numerous indicators of compromise (IOCs). Security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR) platforms, for example, can analyze events, isolate hosts, take servers down, and perform tasks automatically using if-then type statements.
  1. Focus On Detecting Insider Threats – Many ransomware attacks originate from the inside of an organization. Insider threats are serious and very real. This is where measures, including user behavior analytics (UBA) and threat hunting, play important factors when it comes to reviewing data to determine who’s accessing what and learning employees’ behaviors so when there’s anomalous behavior, UBA systems can alert security teams to investigate and escalate incidents as needed.
  1. Proactively Scan for Vulnerabilities – As more companies become internet-facing and operate in the cloud, vulnerabilities can expose millions of customers to ransomware attacks. One of the primary methods used by threat actors to steal data spread ransomware, and encrypt systems is to exploit vulnerabilities in public-facing applications. To detect potential threats and vulnerabilities, security teams need to conduct internal and external scans to determine if operating systems are outdated or if devices require updated security patches.
  1. Monitor Zero-Day and Emerging Threats – With vulnerabilities being disclosed each year, threat operators are aware of companies’ Achilles’ heel. When vulnerabilities, including Log4j, were exposed, threat operators made millions of attempts to exploit the software bug. Companies need to proactively monitor vulnerabilities and execute updates in numerous locations to prevent ransomware from exploiting the vulnerabilities.
  2. Utilize Expert Threat Hunters – Threat hunting is a specialized skill that is in short supply. External threat hunters can provide various cybersecurity knowledge to companies. They can perform regular penetration tests, validate network integrity and overall cybersecurity posture, detect unauthorized activities, backdoors, trojans and evasive malware, monitor attack surfaces and flag suspicious activity, or perform a cost analysis to determine what security is required and how much budget is required.

Additionally, companies can choose to outsource threat monitoring, detection, and incident response functions called managed detection and response. Advanced analytics and threat intelligence are combined by MDR providers allowing proactive threat detection and improved incident response.

  1. Remain Updated on Latest Techniques – With the appearance of ransomware-as-a-service, it’s easier for inexperienced cybercriminals to deploy ransomware. Attack techniques are evolving, and ransomware groups are utilizing double extortion tactics. Threat hunters need to constantly change their strategy to keep up with new ransomware tactics.
  1. Monitor the Dark Web – Regularly monitor the dark web to check whether anyone is selling your company’s stolen data. An initial access broker, for example, might advertise credentials stolen from ACME Corporation. If ACME discovers this ahead of time, they’ll be aware they’re under a potential attack and can take proactive measures to protect themselves. Additionally, it’s critical to examine password leak websites to see if user credentials have been leaked online. The same tools that threat operators use can be used to understand what’s hiding on the internet and what can be exploited.
  1. Get Employees Involved in the Hunting Effort – The three primary causes of ransomware attacks are phishing emails, lack of cybersecurity training, and poor user practices. Employees who are well-trained in detecting and reporting suspicious activities can play an important role in threat hunting. However, requiring employees to attend compliance training once a year is insufficient. Security teams need to continuously remind users with messages, including “Don’t pick up USB drives in the parking lot and plug them in.” If users receive an unusual request from someone they know, contact the person to confirm its legitimacy.

As cybersecurity defenses continue to mature, so will the attack tactics and techniques. Companies have a fighting chance against cyber threats by stopping them in their tracks through proactive threat hunting. Additionally, it’s important for companies to always remain vigilant of the current threat landscape and regularly update their data networks’ infrastructure. At SpearTip, our ShadowSpear Platform evaluates the effectiveness of current technical controls and allows our Security Operations Center to hunt for and identify advanced malware, including ransomware and advanced persistent threat (APTs). Our threat hunting service is a critical pre-breach step that allows us to evaluate the effectiveness of current security measures, including email systems, to determine the overall health of a company’s environment and prevent breaches.

If your company is experiencing a breach, call our Security Operations Centers at 833.997.7327 to speak directly with an engineer.